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Organisers meet with immigration over TM30 petition – full report

The Thaiger

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Organisers meet with immigration over TM30 petition – full report | The Thaiger

(This post, re-published with permission, has been edited by The Thaiger to clear up the grammar and spelling without changing any of the intentions or meanings. Here it is, in full…)

Yesterday, I met the Officer Longtor at Korat immigration. He was very nice, very polite and we had a conversation in Thai. I had with me a copy of the petition made by a group of expats and Thai people, a translation, some examples of problems related to TM30, statistics and an interpreter in case I could not fully understand. The interpreter was also a witness of everything that was said.

I live in Thailand since 2004. I have permanent residency and do not need to make Form TM30, form TM47 or a yearly extension. If I helped this group of expats with the petition, it is because I feel the current system needs to improve. It was recently reported that Australians and British are coming less to Thailand because of the high value of the baht. It was reported that Scandinavian are also about 10% less living in the land of smiles as before.

The current systems seems a mess and foreigners don’t know what to do. I don’t do this for exposure and spent an incredible amount of time on this project. I manage a law firm in Thailand, and know how things work in Thailand. Often you need connections and I work on difficult cases each month. I was pretty well placed to try something new with a group of people on Facebook. A closed group. I work with Thai lawyers every day even if visas are not our specialty. We are more litigators and make contracts and documents in Thai and English.

Recently, I was told that foreign teachers traveling in other provinces on weekends had to report to immigration Monday morning so even Thai students were penalised by the strict enforcements of sections 37 and 38 of the immigration act. Like the Bangkok Post mentioned this week, Thailand is shooting itself in the foot and the expats are furious about these rules that we find draconian.

It is Thai tradition to discuss, negotiate and not to confront people. The petition is a way to show discomfort and open a dialogue with authorities. It is not a perfect document, some complaints about the English (I am a French native speaker – the first version was edited), some complained it was not going far enough (talking about help insurance or amounts required but we can not fix everything), some complained about the SSL security of the website (added).

In other words, many pissed me off all week whilst all I was doing was trying to help others, knowing what I was doing.

I am not perfect (nobody is) but nobody had the guts to do it and many feared to sign the petition thinking  they could be deported. I personally helped to change some laws in Canada, i am not afraid to expose what I think. I sued immigration twice (never for fun) in administrative court with success and I felt that our voice needed to be listened to. So with the help of hundreds of people, we made this petition. Yes, hundreds of people helped to correct, make this website, commented on the website, translated in Thai and much more. I couldn’t see what else could be done?

You want to contest articles 37 and 38 of immigration act based on clause 34 of the constitution? Well, good luck. Talking directly to Bangkok immigration is the next step…. but things in Thailand move slowly. Mediators, arbitrators, negotiations are often used in court and starting, by talking to local immigration on the back of few thousands signatures, was the best idea we had.

It became quickly the talk of the town in English medias: Richard Barrow, frontpage of Bangkok Post, illustration of Stephff, The Thaiger, the Thai Examiner, Pattaya News, etc. I was amazed it went so quick but I was expecting more signatures. The website is still there, “Reform-Thai-immigration”  and we hope you sign, share and things go faster.

Here’s a summary of the conversation of yesterday with immigration:

We were told that tourists are not affected by these rules. They want the same as before. But AirBNB must report foreign guests just like hotels. Immigration understand that expats brings a lot of money to Thailand. But they seem to see two problems:

A) there is a large proportion of workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – something like 3 million in the country. And often they do not respect the rules and regulations. That is a major problem for immigration. Rules are enforced for them but as there is only one law, it affects foreigners from western countries.

B) it seems that Indian people abuse some rules – arrived, for example, in Phuket, got fake marriages with Thai ladies, and disappeared into other provinces. TM 30 started to be enforced especially for them, to be able to trace where criminals or people abusing the system are. I do understand terrorists won’t provide their addresses and I pointed this out. Still, immigration seems to be strict on TM30 and TM30, once registered, is the responsibility of the Thai landlord.

Each immigration office can have its own rules, which I think is a headache and nonsense. But this ‘high ranking’ officer explained to us how he wants them applied in Korat. If you are not a tourist and arrive from abroad, even if articles 37 and 38 talk about 24 hours, they will give you 7 days to register the TM30. Foreigners have to register TM30 only ONCE (and not tourists) and after, it is the duty of the Thai landlord. If you leave in Thailand for a while and never registered TM30, you will be fined as a foreigner. I believe it is between 800 to 2,000 baht.

Once you are registered in the system, it is the Thai landlord (or hotel), and NOT the foreigner that will pay the fines. I STRONGLY suggest the Thai landlords to ask for a RECEIPT for ANY FINE and it is the duty of immigration to provide these receipts. We all know about ‘corruption’ and we should all fight it, slowly, to make this place better.

Now if you look at clause 37 (4) of the immigration act, a foreigner that goes to another province for 24 hours must report to authorities. This was never been enforced to my knowledge and in Nakhon Ratchasima they don’t care about that. They care about the TM6 that you made when you arrived in Thailand (airport), the registration of TM30 that you make once, the 90 days notice (TM47) that you make if you live 90 days in Kingdom and your yearly extension.

Two great pieces of news:

1) There is a committee to modify the immigration laws already in place. But changing laws take time. The head of immigration in Korat is part of that committee and they know some changes must be made. They want to make it easier for foreigners. I even talk about the high value of the baht and they know it makes problems for some retirees.

2) But the best news is a document, an order signed on August 5, 2019 that I saw. They didn’t allow me to make a copy as it is an internal document. It is an order from Bangkok to make an application online for all forms, to simplify things. That means TM6, TM30, TM47, will all be online, accessible on your phone and you won’t have to go to immigration. You will only have to go once a year to immigration for your extension. August 5 was the same day that the Bangkok Post made a frontpage with “Furore over TM30 forms”. Sincerely, I think they did listen to us and the petition helped. It is a coincidence?

Other comments were said but again, it can be different depending on the immigration office you live. In Korat, they told us that if we go to Pattaya for a weekend we don’t have to report. This is clearly against the articles 37 and 38, but I think immigration understand that they do not want to hurt tourism. But if you do go abroad, yes, your landlord must report TM30 on your return.

If you go sleeping at your friends house, outside the province, this officer told us not to bother with reporting and paperwork… that is also against the rules, but if you think about it, who could know if you sleep in your friend’s house.

This is different from hotels, or landlords, and are the ones that must report you. Again, 37(4) is not enforced according to immigration.

Let’s hope this online application works well and comes quickly. On that, we have no assurance.

The current system is confusing. There are too many forms, too many rules and I clearly explained that. Immigration could explain the rules on their websites and apply them the same way in each office. That would be a great improvement.

I would like to note that in the last 10 days some individuals have tried to block our initiative. Some make money by helping others having visas and they have interest to keep the rules complicated and unclear. That is a shame. If you want to develop tourism, investment and economy, make things clear.

We were told also that because there is a new government, new cabinet, things are now slower.

On August 15, the FCC is planning a panel on TM30 and immigration rules. Foreign journalist will be invited and the subject might hit the news again. We were told that if the FCC wants an immigration officer there, they need to write a letter to immigration. I should be there if this panel is still happening.

No name of anybody who helped, signed the petition, or contributed, was named. You can share this post, copy it and provide the information to whoever you want. If you think something is wrong in the following text, let me know. Thanks.

Expats

Mandatory health insurance details for some visas announced this week

The Thaiger

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Mandatory health insurance details for some visas announced this week | The Thaiger

Details on the proposed mandatory health insurance requirements for Non-Immigrant O-A visas will be made next week, according to ThaiVisa.

A senior executive from one of the insurance companies involved in the scheme told ThaiVisa that the Office of Insurance Commission, Ministry of Public Health, Foreign Ministry and Immigration Bureau will announce the insurance requirements for Non-Immigrant O-A visas on August 22.

Last May it was proposed that foreigners applying for Non-Immigrant O-A visas would be required to have health insurance that offers 40,000 baht outpatient coverage and 400,000 baht inpatient coverage. The details, along with other information, is expected to be confirmed this week.

Officials say the mandatory health insurance requirement was proposed to help Thailand cope with the large number of unpaid medical bills from foreigners who use Thai hospitals.

The mandatory health insurance requirement has only been proposed for Non-Immigrant O-A visas and not for other visas or extensions of stay.

SOURCE: ThaiVisa

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Expats

Ten things the Thai Government could to do right now

The Thaiger

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Ten things the Thai Government could to do right now | The Thaiger

OPINION

Thailand is a proud country with a rich cultural tradition. And great food. Expats and visitors have been flocking to the Land of Smiles for a century, especially the last 20 years when tourism has surged to become a major contributor to the country’s GDP.

But the veneer of a never-ending rise in tourism numbers lost some of its gloss with tourism officials, perennially optimistic and talking-up the numbers, when they were forced to admit that tourism dropped in Q2 this year. The numbers have rebounded since then with tour operators and hotels reporting a buoyant Q3 and good bookings ahead into the high-season.

But it wasn’t just tourism, living as an expat has become increasingly complex and expensive for many. There is a perception that “we’re not wanted here anymore” which is an uncomfortable feeling to have when you just want to enjoy living in the country you love and contribute to its economy by participating.

That the issues are now making headlines in Thai media is bad press for the Land of Smiles.

The rise in value of the Thai baht against some currencies, the enforcement (and ongoing confusion) over the TM30 and more scrutiny on some of the visa options for long-termers, all added to a malaise in the world economy, is making travelling to, and living in Thailand, a bit more challenging than in the past.

Here are ten suggestions, published in good faith, we believe should be implemented to address key problems.

Make it easier to do business

Between the mountains of paperwork, public service attitude, language barriers and fierce protectionism, doing business in Thailand as a foreigner is not easy. The need to have a small army of accountants and ‘Thai Nominees’ is just a part of the problem. The endless red tape and hurdles put up by the Thai Government, and the patchy application of some of these requirements, make running a business professionally an ongoing challenge.

Make it easier to apply for, and maintain, visas

There are quite a few visas available for tourists and expats to come to Thailand . But the goal posts keep being shifted and the requirements continually change. Thinly-veiled corruption and variations of how the various visas are applied have made getting and maintaining a proper visa in Thailand challenging.

Tourist visas would also benefit from increasing possible length of stays and reducing paperwork before and upon arrival. There is currently a waiver of visa fees for some countries up to the end of October 2019.

A long-term resident visa would also be welcome. Given the current difficulty of being eligible and getting a long-term resident visa in Thailand does little attract real long-term retirees who still need to do 90 day reporting, annual visa extensions and worry about the TM30 form every time they travel.

Immigration officials, around the country, control their own local fiefdoms where the ‘guidelines’ are just guidelines and are interpreted differently on different days by different officials. Apart from confusing the expats and tourists, these systems provide lucrative opportunities for blackmail and corruption.

A smile could help sometimes too.

Rebuild the Tourism Authority of Thailand

Whilst the reasons for Thailand’s droop in tourist numbers for Q2 this year are many and varied, the body who has been marketing Brand Thailand is the Tourism Authority of Thailand. They have made countless mis-steps and strategic errors in the past decade and must shoulder part of the responsibility for some of the systemic problems, including the over-reliance on just a few national demographics.

A proper, independent, tourist organisation with a professional, modern marketing team with international experience, not just Thais, is a must. Thailand’s ‘charm’ is no longer enough in the highly competitive world of international tourism. Around SE Asia there are now emerging destinations that are simply doing a better job than the team at the TAT who are, like the national airline, beset with nepotism and long-termers who should have been fired a decade ago.

Just about every aspect of tourism in Thailand needs to be updated, cleaned-up and improved and the TAT are just the wrong people to do it. They’ve strategically been chasing an unsustainable tourist mix and placed all their marketing eggs in few baskets.

Whilst they spend large amounts travelling the world and participating in travel expos, they too need to follow the rest of the world online and have their staff populating the world of social media, all day, everyday. Whatever they’re doing on social media now, multiply by 100!

Working under the auspices of the Department of Sports and Tourism hasn’t worked well for the TAT. The Government now needs a dedicated Department of Tourism is they are to maintain the percentage of GDP garnered from tourists into the third decade of the 21st century.

Urgently and aggressively address tourist safety

The fall-out from the Phuket Boat Tragedy is still being felt and has left a poor impression of safety for tourists. A year later and what has changed?

Speaking of Phuket, the shameful handling of the local lifeguard contracts has been a direct reason for drownings along the island’s west coast in recent years. The dithering of contractual arrangements and personality clashes took precedence over hiring, up-skilling and deploying a professional lifeguard service to protect beachgoers.

Around the country the reports of safety lapses causing death and injury to tourists are alarming in their frequency. Tour bus crashes, boats capsizing, renting out motorbikes to unlicensed drivers and tourist attraction safety standards. Problems associated with all of these are mostly preventable.

Change the company law

Part of the problem of doing business in Thailand is that, no matter how good you are, you never really own the legal framework that defines your business. A foreigner can only own 49% of the shares in a Thai company. This protectionist business law is a major barrier for foreigners to invest in Thailand making it difficult, or impossible to attract additional investment or plant to sell your business down the track.

There are provisions for larger enterprises to register a 100% foreign owned Board of Investment (BOI) business but these are quite complicated and expensive to set up and only available for limited industries.

  • Agriculture and Agricultural Products
  • Mining Ceramics and Basic Metals
  • Light Industry
  • Metal Products, Machinery and Transport Equipment
  • Electronic Industry and Electric Appliances
  • Chemicals, Paper and Plastics
  • Services and Public Utlities
  • Technology and Innovation Development

Providing a more flexible and easier company law, with more options for small to medium companies, would allow Thailand to attract a much larger number of international business people.

Smile

It’s meant to be the Land of Smiles. But arrive at any checkpoint or airport as you land in or depart Thailand and your first and last impressions are of unhappy, scowling immigration officials. And if you arrive at the wrong time at an airport the queues can be horrendous.

The situation may be similar at any international airports around the world, but when you pin your whole brand around being a Land of Smiles, you could at least try. It is, after all, the first impression.

Now they’ve added an additional layer of checking you in and out of the country with a fingerprint and iris scan. Taking a copy of all your finger and thumb prints just adds another 30 seconds or so as you arrive and depart… multiplied by x number of tourists waiting in line.

The same applies for some, probably more than in the past, of retailers who seem to spend a lot more time scrolling on their phone rather than attending to their customers these days. Some just don’t like being interrupted and, if you’re not buying, give you attitude rather than a simple acknowledgement.

Address the currency

To be fair there is only a limited number of levers to pull for Thai treasury officials that could ‘force’ the Thai baht to a lower value. Short of printing new Thai baht bills (which would also push up inflation), there are limits to what a modern government can do in an open international currency trading world.

Still, local businesses in tourist regions could take some control and reduce the ‘tourist’ prices and stop the blatant rip-offs aimed at solely extracting money from tourists’ pockets. Buy a Big Mac in the middle of Patong or Pattaya, then drive 3 kilometres away to another McDonalds and note the difference in price. Just maintaining your high prices and hoping for the best isn’t going to win new business.

The two-tier pricing is also a slap in the face for tourists (and most expats) which smacks of xenophobia or greed. Even the word ‘farang’ denotes an attitude to caucasian foreigners, either of derision or as walking ATMs.

Name and shame scammers

Scams have been part of the tourist game forever in Thailand. Some are just a silly punt at extracting a few extra baht from unsuspecting tourists, others are down-right dangerous, offend tourists and end up as a Facebook post. When these scammers get outed and charged (rarely) the fines and punishment are often perfunctory and are not a deterrent to other would-be scammers.

There should be a register of these annoying tourist rip-offs and schemes which is posted on some website where the ‘shame’ can act as a better deterrent using the Asian concept of ‘losing face’ as a weapon to combat scammers and prevent more from flourishing.

Or simply track down, punish the current scammers and fine them more often.

Make it easier to buy property

You see a property. You like it. You negotiate a price and want to buy it. That’s usually where it starts to get difficult. Foreigners cannot buy land or the land that their villa is sitting on. Many have got around these laws by leasing the land or forming a Thai company to do the transaction. In both cases the ‘buyer’ is never really the ‘owner’ and, whilst working reasonably well for 30 years, is still a long way around a fairly simple situation. The only winners are lawyers as they help foreign buyers navigate the labyrinth of Thai property and company law.

With the law allowing foreigners to own condominiums 100% (as long as 51% of the available units in the development is owned by Thais), developers have raced to build condos to feed the foreign buyer interest in Thai property.

Whilst appreciating the history of keeping Thailand for ‘Thais’ there should also be at least another easy option for foreigners to participate in the freehold market to better internationalising Thai property.

24 hour reporting of address (TM30) needs to be simplified or streamlined

The requirement for foreigners to report their residential location within 24 hours of a change of address, and the current confusion around the matter, should be clarified. The law applies to expats, forcing them to report to Immigration when they return from a weekend away or a business trip. Or their reluctant landlord is responsible. The actual guidelines lead to more questions, rather than providing answers, and the enforcement is applied ad-hoc.

If the report could be done ‘easily’ online on an effective, easy-to-use, reliable webpage or App, that would certainly help. Currently there is an App and a website but the successes for using it are ‘lumpy’ and users could be involved in making the process simpler.

We acknowledge the Thai government’s right to keep a track of foreign visitors but also think a streamlined, clear process would assist everyone and lead to better results for the Immigration team and better compliance by foreigners.

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Bangkok

You’ve read the social media, now watch the TM30 debate in Bangkok – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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You’ve read the social media, now watch the TM30 debate in Bangkok – VIDEO | The Thaiger

A panel of Thai and foreign experts and commentators came together yesterday to discuss the enforcement of immigration rules, government policies and concerns, and recent shifts in official procedures and attitudes. They attempted to clarify the TM30 reporting process, analyse its impact and discuss the future of this unpopular law. The speakers were…

• Pol. Maj. Gen. Patipat Suban Na Ayudhya, Commander of Immigration Division

• Pol. Maj. Teerapong Jaiareerob, Inspector of Sub-Division 2, Immigration Division 1

• Pol.Col. Thatchapong Sarawannangkul, Superintendent of Sub-Division 2, Immigration Division 1

• Penrurk Phetmani, immigration lawyer with Tilleke and Gibbins International

• Chris Larkin, director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and a member of AustCham’s Advocacy subcommittee where he works on customs alliance and immigration issues

• Sebastian Brousseau, lawyer and managing director of Isaan Lawyers, specialist in immigration issues and leading member of advocacy group reform-thai-immigration.com

• Richard Barrow, blogger and long-time Bangkok resident

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